An overnight news release issued at 1:00 a.m. informed, "After inspection trip in the mine, Wilson expects rescue team to embark within an hour toward entombed men." At 3:00 a.m., "More hot areas encountered; Passage impossible at present due to heat and lack of air." At 5:30 a.m., "Wilson said new ventilation system being tried to pump fresh air up to trapped miners; said men should be reached by evening."
The second shift entered the mine at 3:45 p.m. and relieved the first shift at the work site. While feeling disappointed that the rescue team was prevented from reaching their goal last night, their gratification for not leading men into that 'hot area' without needed respiratory protection. The entire shift was spent attempting to make the new ventilation system work and in correcting the results... During the attempt, work areas became more contaminated with by-products of the fire and forced withdrawing the workers. It was the consensus of those underground that returning to the original system offered the only hope of saving what had been accomplished so far. Permission to do so was requested and granted by operation officials on the surface. The restored ventilation began dissipating the contamiated atmosphere in the work areas. Testing the quality of air was continued until it became safe for the workers return. Relatively safe working conditions were nearly restored upon the arrival of the relieving shift.
Each return to the surface was a relief from the malodorous air underground which saturated skin and clothing. Both, reeking with the odors emitted by the fire, were in stark contrast to the clean, cold, crisp mountain air. Odors which repeated scrubbings under a hot shower could not totally eliminate. Odors which laundering cycles could not completely remove from clothing. Odors which had become our constant companions.
Saturday, March 12, 1960
The crawl space was now extended to the set of entries leading to the return air shaft. the same area that Inspectors Tom Allamam, Mike Cordray, and I had reached three days ago. The distance of near one mile is but one measure of the feat accomplished. there is no measure nor words to accurately describe the work, toil, and sweat expended in reaching this point under existing conditions. Yes, ther job could have been expedited by the use of explosives as suggested had conditions permitted. Only the fragile, heat-weakened concrete-clock stoppings separated fire and work areas which the mildest of concussions could destroy. Even now, only one location along the entire route tested free of carbon monoxide. The carved passgeway now permitted rescue teams to reach the new base with their equipment and protective respiratory apparatus. the CHEMOXand McCAA self-contained breathing apparatus along with the Universal Gas Mask were now available.
The company's rescue team from Red Jacket, WV was exploring some 800 feet ahead of the new fresh-air base at 5:45 p.m. when dense was encountered coming from No. 4 Main Entry. The impaired visibility forced their retreat and the installation of ventilation controls to clear the smoke. They then assumed the role of back-up team for the Company's Rockhouse Division team renewing the search. When turned back by hazardous roof conditions, the remainder of the shift required installing roof supports in that area.
Here, the term 'fresh-air base" was a misnomer. As throughout the operation so far, the atmosphere contained an average of .04 percent carbon monoxide. While this concentration is not deadly, CO has an accumulative effect during exposure. The hemoblobin in blood has an affinity for CO 300 times greater than oxygen. This accumulative was responsible for some workers requiring hospitalization.
Sunday, March 13, 1960
Accompanied by Mr. W.R. Park, District Manager, Inspector Cordray and I arrived at the mine by 4:00 p.m. and proceeded underground to the fresh-air base. The number of mine rescue teams now available here permitted a simultaneous search of the areas offering refuge for the entrapped miners. Also, each team on exploration had a back-up team in reserve at the fresh-air base should an emergency arise.
Inspectors Allaman and Woods returned from a fruitless search of the Nos. 7 and 8 Main Entries at 7:30 p.m. Shortly afterward, a team was heard in No. 4 Main Entry but could not be identified because smoke limited visibility. These probes continued until learning that the fire had burned through behind us and into our only escape route. All underground personnel were withdrawn to safety. Following an hour-long battle, the fire outbreak was controlled sufficiently to allow teams to renew their search. To provide timely warning in case of another such occurrence, the escape route was constantly patrolled and manned telephones placed and each end. At peak activity, the fire emitted intense heat which created unpredictable air currents that played havoc with normal ventilation. At low ebb, the smoldering mass gave off dense smoke and increased levels of carbon monoxide. These wide and random fluctuations occurred without warning throughout.
The on-coming shift was briefed on the situation and conditions before leaving the mine and returning to Logan.
Monday, March 14, 1960
Inspector Mike Cordray and I arrived at the fresh-air base as the Bartley mine rescue team with Elmer Layne returned from exploring the No. 7 Section. This area, some 1,800 feet ahead and being developed to the right off No. 8 Main Entry, was one offering refuge to the trapped men. The returning team reported that dense smoke limited the beam of cap-lamps to an arm-length. That in the poor visibility, one member inadvertently crawled onto the conveyor of an unseen coal-loading machine. Understandably, they found no indication of the missing men. Obviously, the smoke would have to be removed before an effective search could be made.
Meanwhile, the Holden rescue team had explored some 2,000 feet ahead and located two electric locomotives, one lunch pail, and coat. Dense smoke prevented further exploration and forced their return. At 9:00 p.m., efforts were directed toward increasing the amount of air being delivered in order to clear out the smoke. Three hours later, the Rockhouse rescue team reported that smoke had dissipated from No. 4 Main entry. We then advanced to the 4 Left Entries sidetrack and soon afterward, increased levels of carbon monoxide were detected and smoke began inundating the area. With visibility reduced to some ten feet we returned to the fresh-air base. Efforts to dissipate dthe smoke were resumed and continued until relieved at 3:00 a.m.
Tuesday, March 15, 1960
The 3:45 p.m. news release: "Wilson announces 13 bodies found, huddled together. No survivors expected among others." Hope would not permit me to accept Wilson's last statement. There had to be hope for the five men yet unaccounted for. Surely, the week of around-the-clock slavish labor was not in vain. Surely, some success is due those who had unselfishly risked health, life and limb to save their endangered fellow miners. The cold, drab wintry scent grew more somber. The few voices heard were but barely audible murmurs. Faces appeared older and more fatigued. Eyes, once bright with hope were now dimmed with tears. Mrs. L.M. bittinger and Linda Coleman were with two volunteer nurses. One, Delores Lucas from Monaville said, with tear filled eyes. "I grew up with a lot of those men."
The arrival of our shift at the fresh-air base coincided that of the rescue team returning from locating the bodies. They informed us that the location lay some 2,400 feet ahead, the route was under dangerous roof and, the concentration required using gas masks. The distance and conditions forced deviating from established procedures for rescue and recovery operations. Normally, explorations requiring respiratory protection were limited to 1,000 feet beyond the fresh-air base. The physical and communication link between team and base is rope 1,000 feet in length. The team's intention to stop, advance, and retreat is communicated to base by one, two, and three tugs on the lifeline. The comparatively safe alternative utilized two 1,000-foot lifelines with a person stationed at the Junction. He relayed signals from one line to the other. Communication over the final 400 feet employed cap-lamp signals familiar to coal miners.
The scene that greeted us at the end of the 2,400-foot journey was one void of all sound and motion. Like a photograph, thirteen coal miners sat and lounged frozen in their last act of life. The first, in the act of enclosing the opening with cloth, knelt in front of his unfinished task with hammer and nail in hand. Another, sat before his lunch pail with the lid in one hand and a sandwich, with one bite missing, in the other. Their foreman, Josh Chafin, sat with arms folded across his knees. Betwen his feet sat a flame-safety lamp with a note attached to the handle. With hope that it contained information about the others. I removed and read the note. Addressed to his wife, it revealed only his love for her and asked that their children "be raised in the Lord". This, the only communication ever found was duly delivered to Mrs. Chafin. The scene left no doubt that these lives were snuffed out instantaneously and without pain or suffering. Also, there was no doubting the cause, a lethal concentration of colorless, odorless, and tasteless carbon monoxide.
Much more than two hours were required for the round trip and to reverently prepare two bodies for transportation. This exceeded the normal gas mask canister life which was further shortened by the high humidity. This made it necessary to disregard the warning and change canisters in contaminated atmosphere. The canister converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and the process generates heat. The hot canister, which rests on the front of the user's body, resulted in some workers suffering burns. Upon returning to base, a more arduous and time consuming trip lay ahead before the bodies reached the shaft. Only six had reached the bottom of the elevator shaft as we left the mine at 5:30 a.m.
Although fewer in number, many people were maintaining the long vigil in spite of the frigid temperature. With my roots being in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, it was easy to identify with and admire this indomitable spirit on display Although advised by State Police not to attempt the icy roads, we cautiously wended our way to Logan.
Wednesday, March 17, 1960
Sub-freezing temperature had caused ice to form in the mine shaft which prevented operating the elevator. workers, wielding picks and hammers, removed enough of the ice to allow our 3:30 p.m. entrance.
The rapidly deteriorating conditions had workers transporting the bodies hurriedly but cautiously along the entire route between fresh-air base and elevator shaft. Metal sleds had been fashioned to move them through the near mile of crawl space. These sleds were pulled and pushed, lifted and lowered carefully by miners stationed at intervals along the route. Impressive was their concern for those on their last journey from the mine.
With the Holden mine rescue team we left the fresh-air base to recover the last two of the thirteen bodies. Roof conditions along the route gave strong evidence that this may well be the last possible trip. Mindful of this and with the bodies being readied for transport, a volunteer worker and I made a final search of the area. The worker was one of those who, without training in the wearing of protective respiratory equipment, did so with a minimal of instruction. Together we searched every opening until stopped by impassable falls of roof material. Some 200 feet from the rescue team our search ended. Shortly after entering this last opening offering egress, the beam of my cap-lamp illuminated a small familiar object. The tan leather carrying case, containing a methane detector, was a regular fixture on the belt of my friend, Bill Donaldson. He now rested on the right side of the opening with James Lundell on the left. It was 8:05 p.m. and three of eighteen miners remained unaccounted for.
Upon returning to the fresh-air base we briefed the Company's Wyoming rescue team on existing conditions, the location of Donaldson and Lundell and, remained as their back-up team. With the smoke in No. 7 Section somewhat dissapated, a second search was attempted. While exploring in the murky darkness, a team member's lamp picked out a shiny object. A closer examination revealed the object to be a cap-lamp reflector and tracing the attached cord led to another of the missing miners. A careful search of the immediate area followed and led to the discovery of yet another body. From all available evidence found at the scene, the team was able to reconstruct the last moments of these two men. Apparently, Adams and Workman attempted to open the valve on a compressed air-line to obtain uncontaminated air. While failing to do so, Adams was apparently overcome and collapsed. Workman, realizing the task was impossible and that his buddy was gone, donned his self-and hurried to join the others. Poor visibility probably accounted for his failing to see the heavy electric cable suspended overhead. The collision dislodged both hard hat and self-rescuer. With no evidence of movement following the fall, it was assumed that he died instantly. Now, only one of the original eighteen remained missing as our shift ended at 3:00 a.m.
Thursday, March 17, 1960
The last body of the original eighteen men was located shortly after Inspector Cordray and I arrived at the mine. The Bartley rescue team was making yet another search of the No. 7 Section when the final discovery was made at 4:45 p.m. The team and their discovery passed the fresh-air base at 6:00 p.m. enroute to the elevator shaft. The history of coal mining in Logan County records no greater loss of life previously in a single occurrence. With the rescue efforts now over, recovery operations began to deal with the active fire and the aftermath. The inability to extinguish an underground mine fire leaves one option, sealing. The goal in sealing is to exclude air and oxygen from the fire without which burning is impossible. The process is made more complex and becomes a race in a mine liberating exposive gases. The race takes place within the sealed area and the outcome is determined by which two events occur first. Success is acheived when the oxygen is reduced significantly to no longer support conbustion before flammable gases reach their explosive range. Should this sequence be reversed, a gas explosion is most likely. Timing and placement of the final seal are most critical. Preferably, the final closure is by mechanical means with no one underground.
The second shift was to close remaining openings betwen the No. 3 and 4 Main Entries. The first shift remained to finish closing all but one opening ahead of the fire. In passing the fresh-air base en route to the surface, they remarked that all openings were closed. Believing this temporary sealing posed the danger of an explosion, we withdrew all workers to the fresh-air base and notified officials of our intention to evacuate the mine. A crew from the first shift was instructed to return and provide an opening until the proper time for final permanent sealing. There was no disagreement with those claiming that a methane explosion was an extremely remote possibility.
Friday, March 18, 1960
The final news release stated, "Final two bodies found. Plans for a fund drive to aid 93 widows and children announced. "
The bodies of eighteen men who entered the mine last Tuesday had now arrived on the surface. A gathering of some fifty people watched and listened as a line of ministers read the 23rd Psalm in unison. The suspense that had gripped so many for so long was now over and so was the vigil by relatives, friends, spectators, and news media reporters.
The recovery operations evolved into removing collapsed roof material from the fire area and restoring mine production. The first material removed revealed that entry height was now double and triple that of the original. The fire, which yet burned, had so weakened the newly exposed roof that both bolting and conventional timbering were required for adequate support. The increased height made it necessary to construct a canopy with the top serving as a work platform. Hot material and fire created a temperature of 139 degrees Fahrenheit atop the canopy. The level of carbon monoxide present had workers wearing masks despite fresh air being conducted under the canopy and returned overhead. Humidity reduced to a fraction the life of gas mask canisters which quickly depleted the available supply. The solution involved connecting one end of a garden hose to the mask and the other placed in the fresh air current. It was indeed fortunate that only a slight leg injury was suffered in this operation so fraught with danger.
The other ongoing operation, creating a pair of entries through barrier pillars of coal, unfortunately claimed two lives from falls of roof material. One of these fatalities gave credence to a theory that the beginning of an accident is often far removed from the actual scene. The foreman of an oncoming shift was obviously preoccupied and paid little heed to the briefing on workplace conditions. While making the re-shift inspection, he fell victim to a roof condition covered in the briefing. It was learned later that the man had shortly left the hospital where he was informed of his wife's terminal cancer. The investigation into the other fatality revealed no similar factor.
Neither operation had achieved its objective on May 27, 1960, the date of my last entry in the Holden Diary.
Exhaustive investigations of this occurrence were conducted and the findings published by both State and Federal Agencies. It was determined that the source of ignition was an electric arc or hot matal resulting therefrom. Proliferation was by coal dust and other combustibles known to accumulate at the overcast from normal traffic. Although quite detailed and informative, the reports cannot supply answers known only to the pershed. We are left without answers to questions regarding their actions following the outbreak of fire. We can only speculate that their decisions were based on two assumptions and both proved to be wrong through no fault of their own. First, it seems reasonable that they fully expected safety by short-circulating the ventilating air current. Realization of the failure may have come with the arrival of smoke and the poisonous atmosphere. This would have prevented their reaching refuge in either No. 7 Section or Bore Hole Headings. The second assumption may have been that an open route to safety existed via the Elk Creek Slope. No further options remained when the route was found impassable.
James Carter, Jr
Josh Chafin, Jr.
Roy L. Dempsey
William (Bill) Donaldson
Berti Horvate Jr.
Flint Lock Jerrells
James V Lundell
Albert Marcum Jr
. Melvin Newsome
Sargeant Clyde White